Police perspectives on the economic considerations of providing healthcare in short-term custodial settings in Australia

Caitlin Brandenburg, Julia Crilly, Stuart Thomas, Paul Gardiner, Stuart A Kinner, Ed Heffernan, Cathy Lincoln, Annabel Somerville, Peter Davidson, Daniel Wilson, David Green, Joshua Byrnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Providing appropriate healthcare to people in short-term police custody settings (i.e. watch-houses) is challenging due to the complexity of detainee health needs and the limitations of the custodial environment. However, little is known about how detainee healthcare is managed in Australia, including economic considerations. This study had two aims: (1) to understand police perspectives on the costs associated with the delivery of healthcare to watch-house detainees in Queensland, Australia and (2) to scope the applicability of the Prison Healthcare Expenditure Reporting Checklist (PHERC) tool for the Australian watch-house context. The study employed an exploratory qualitative descriptive approach. A purposive sample comprised 16 watch-house staff from six regions in Queensland, Australia, interviewed between April and November 2021. A key finding was that police viewed healthcare expenditure as a major, but largely unavoidable cost for Australian watch-houses. Participants reported that direct expenditure comprised mostly of in-house healthcare services (of which there were a variety of models), but also costs of medication and health-related consumables. Indirect costs included costs of escorting and guarding detainees requiring transfer to hospital for health assessment and treatment. Participants reported that the PHERC was not applicable to the Australian watch-house context. Future research should explore the cost-effectiveness of different watch-house healthcare delivery models and how best to measure this.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedicine, Science and the Law
Early online date10 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Sept 2023
Externally publishedYes


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